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Leadership… Voices of Experience​

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Where ever there are people, just two or two million or more, 2 traits automatically come into play; Leadership and Management.  Until a few decades ago, leadership was a term used only in the context of military at all levels from junior most to the chiefs of forces of a country and mega level political echelons; examples being Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Abraham Lincoln etc.  Elsewhere, in non-military professions, they generally spoke more about management.  The difference between the two is vast.  Leaders have people who follow them, but  managers have people who simply work for them. Management aims at achieving a given objective using the team and resources.  Leadership is a much larger field of which management is only a small part.  Leadership is about leading people.

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Loyalty to the people one leads and their well being becomes as important as the objective, if not more.  In leadership, a leader cares for his people and their welfare, like parents care for their children and at times even more.  In the recent times, the non-military professions; especially the corporate world  have also been attracted to the concept and practice of leadership in a much bigger way.  Much has been written about leadership and in the recent years also about the corporate leadership.  Training in leadership has become an all together a new field and a recognized profession.  All the leadership qualities like integrity, accountability, empathy, resilience, vision, positivity, selflessness, passion, personal example, professional excellence, trust, transparency, rewarding the merit, moral courage and many more are often talked and written about.  However, in the following paragraphs, I like to share just  3 most important leadership qualities based on my personal experiences from my years in the military and my second innings as a corporate thinker and trainer.

For a few years, I was involved in designing and conducting workshops for the Tata Management Development Centre in Jamshedpur.  During my very first visit, I was keen to visit their Centre for Excellence.  As I entered the hall, the most prominent quote on the wall was of JRD Tata, “To be a great leader, you must love your people.” He believed that one has to lead people with affection.  Later, at a crossing, I saw a bust of JRD. And it was amazing to see many people passing by on motor cycles stopping there, bowing their head and saluting his bust.  He was worshipped while he lived and even now.  And his achievements as a business man were phenomenal.  So, love is the core of great leadership irrespective of the field or profession.  Most of the leadership traits automatically flow out of love for one’s people.

I feel ‘Personal Example’ comes next. Do not demand from people you lead more than what you will do or have done in given circumstances.  You set a personal example and people will follow you unquestioningly. They will even overlook some of your shortcomings.  Such is the power of personal example.  So, don’t be easy upon yourself as a leader.  And remember, you cannot fool people. If you try, sooner or later you will be found out for sure and then people will despise you.  Field Marshal Rommel, the famous German leader of World War II said, “Even the smartest General cannot fool the most  dumb soldier.” It applies in all professions.

Next is “Professional Excellence”.  In military parlance we say, “ Nobody likes to follow a bum”.  You must be good in your chosen profession.  People will respect you and follow you .  And when your  people look up to you in crisis or challenging times, you should not be found wanting.  And willingly take responsibility if things go wrong.

I like to close with a quote of Lao Tzu (6th century B.C.) , “Of a good leader, who talks little, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will all say, ‘We did it ourselves’.  A leader is best when people barely know that he exists.  Not so good when people obey and acclaim him.  Worst when they despise him.”

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Commodore SPS Dalal

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